The tagline for this movie, "No one is safe," is a weird one. It's confusing, really, using the title's sole adjective to contradict itself. They could have just saved themselves the messiness and let the tagline be something like, "It ain't Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." That would have explained it, bringing in any audience member who felt cheated by the extra-slow-burning atmospherics and miserablism of the Oscar-nominated Le Carre adaptation. Not that there's one thing wrong with Tinker Tailor. It's perfect at what it does. But what it doesn't do is slam or bang or crash or go boom. And some people get upset when an espionage-based thriller doesn't do at least one or two of those things.
The plot is straight out of extension course screenwriting. A couple of CIA guys cross paths. One of them (Denzel Washington) has been on the run for years, gone rogue, turned bad. Maybe. The other one (Ryan Reynolds) has been assigned to keep a captured Washington in a South African safe house until the bosses can find out what information he's holding. And then it all goes wrong. But the remainder of the movie doesn't just weigh in on the side of slamming, banging, crashing and booming, it barely pauses to catch its breath while delivering more of that than you hoped for.
It's hard to know who to thank for all this bone-breaking fun. It could be director Daniel Espinosa or screenwriter David Guggenheim, neither of whom have extensive resumes, but who seem to know how to show up and deliver solid (if standard-issue) material. It doesn't hurt that editor Richard Pearson already worked on The Bourne Supremacy and cinematographer Oliver Wood shot all the Bourne movies, because if this film resembles anything it's that franchise's nonstop motion and visceral crunch. And when the conversation lags -- and it does, more than it ought to -- you don't have too long to wait before another shoot-out, car chase, stabbing, explosion, bludgeoning or face-kick comes along.
But maybe the best news is that Denzel Washington doesn't feel like he's parodying himself. There've been moments, lately, when it seems as though this actor's screen prep time involved watching himself in earlier films. And here he's still giving the almost patented, above-it-all gravitas he's perfected over the years, but Saturday Night Live's resident Denzel-impersonator Jay Pharoah isn't going to pick up any new pointers from this performance. It's Ryan Reynolds, though, who really surprises. For the first non-comedic time in a while, he looks comfortable, much more sure of his place in the action -- even when it gets brutal -- than he ever did in that green digital unitard. Maybe he just likes acting against real sets and real people. Maybe he wants to crash against a wall and feel something. Maybe he knows he's got a face people want to punch. Whatever it is, it's working for him instead against him this time and it's a blast watching him get his ass kicked.